I was at home sick today so I had the chance to watch 100 Huntley Street while dozing on the couch. Moira Brown had a WONDERFUL interview with Dr. Charles Stanley who talked about forgiveness, personal struggles including a divorce, and pastoring First Baptist Church in Atlanta since 1971. Please take the time to watch it when you have the time:
From the day Jesus personally became the savior and focal point of my life in high school... I've wanted to spend my days telling His story to the world with my story. "The Church" is such a wonderful and complex thing. 2.1 billion people like me, mandated by an ancient, living, teaching to gather regularly and live life together as a part of massive global family... inspired by one man.
It's estimated that there are 3.7 million Christian congregations around the world with 67,000 denominations. There are close to 50,000 new congregations being added each year. 7 years ago, I got to be a part of one of those new ones when I helped to plant Freedom House in Brantford Ontario Canada. We're a small group of people who are making a difference in each other's lives and the functioning of our city... but it's not easy.
Dr Stanley hints at the fact that helping to lead (and participate in) "The Church" comes with all the daily struggles that most organizations and gatherings of more than one person have... with the one major difference of having a mandate from God Himself. And there are many times where doing the right thing, can lead to personal difficulty, while trying to be flesh displaying God.
This morning I was again reminded how much God loves "The Church". It's not JUST about us as individuals. God crafted the idea of us gathering together to collectively share His story with each other and the world. Derek Webb's song "The Church" (from one of my favorite albums, "She Must and Shall go free") says this, written as if God were speaking:
I have long pursued her
As a harlot and a whore
But she will feast upon me
She will drink and thirst no more
So when you taste my flesh and my blood
You will know you're not alone
Cause I haven't come for only you
But for my people to pursue
You cannot care for me with no regard for her
If you love me you will love the church
I remember the night I left Africa. It was dark as the airplane ascended into the clouds over Accra. For a few moments I could see thousands of little lights on dark streets in the city. Their source was old coffee cans filled with kerosene, lit so humble men and women could sell their kalawole, or fried cassava. It was beautiful. And I'll often think of this when I think of "The Church". Because "The Big C" Church is made of billions of ordinary people just like me, with a burden to share Jesus with the world... somehow. And so many of these people make enormous life sacrifices to do it.
- Many never invest in retirement plans... because the money would be better spent on The Church.
- Many make below poverty line salaries... because it's what The Church can afford
- Many live apart from their kids or send them away because their life is so unconventional and sacrificial that it doesn't give their family the best start and choice that they had... because of a supernatural calling.
- Many get "you're a heretic and you're leading people to hell" emails and personal confrontations daily... because of a desire to stand for truth.
- Many around the world lead churches without any education whatsoever... because it's burning in them
- Many live with the discouraging feeling of an uphill battle but with a heart full of Holy-ache for a world that God loved so much that He gave His only son to die for
I open our services on Sunday morning at Freedom House. Often I'll remind our little family that we're getting the baton passed to us from the other time zones around the world who have been worshiping already. Somewhere on earth right this very second, millions are praying, holding Bible studies, strumming a guitar in their bedroom singing Hosanna, preparing for midweek meetings, thinking about how to be intentionally kind to a classmate to show the love of Jesus with them.
It's The Church. It's a beautiful thing. Sometimes the grind of everyday life can make it hard to remember the stunning picture that we have the honor of playing an active role in. From a distance... The Church IS beautiful but the challenge is not to stay in the ethereal... it's to roll up our sleeves and play our God-ordained ministry role to the best of our ability, fueled (as Charles Stanley found out and talked about) by the loving embrace of a wonderful God.